Aronian Slays Sicilian Dragon, Assumes Sole Lead

Aronian Slays Sicilian Dragon, Assumes Sole Lead


For the first time, the WR Chess Masters 2023 has a sole leader. GM Levon Aronian is in first place after round three following a smooth win against GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov. GMs Wesley So and Gukesh D, who made a draw in their game, are a half-point behind with 2/3.

GM R Praggnanandhaa, who trailed with zero points out of two rounds, was the second to win on Saturday, against GM Vincent Keymer

Round four begins on Sunday, February 19, at 5:00 a.m. PT/14:00 CET

See what happened:
The games of the WR Chess Masters 2023 can be found here

Aronian has fared well against Abdusattorov in the past, and this most recent game did not change the trajectory of their head-to-head record. Before this game, Aronian boasted a +5 -1 =1 score (across all time controls), with one win and one draw in classical chess.

The American GM, who can alternate between 1.e4 and 1.d4, elected to start with the King’s Pawn Opening. Abdusattorov responded with the Sicilian Dragon, which is fairly uncommon at the highest levels. Aronian, who said he himself played the Dragon from ages 9-16, added: “I think it is a good idea to play openings that people forgot,” agreeing that it certainly has surprise value.

Unperturbed, he played the “not very popular” and “kind of tricky” 9.g4, which seemed to throw off his opponent. After the positionally suicidal 14…f6??, White played principally and encountered little resistance. In the interview, Aronian summed up: “I think it was fairly easy, so I mean, didn’t require much effort.” 

A “fairly easy” day for the American GM. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

Praggnanandhaa scored his first win of the event against Keymer after a difficult start in the tournament. In his interview, he started with saying: “In the first two rounds, [things] didn’t go my way at all. …Today I just wanted to just play and have some fun.”

While the teenage German grandmaster showed excellent preparation in the opening, the middlegame trended in the Indian player’s favor. By move 30, the white pieces, which had gravitated toward the kingside, were poised for a decisive attack, which they delivered with harmony and without a flaw.

This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao

“Today I just wanted to just play and have some fun,” said Praggnanandhaa. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

With the black pieces, GM Anish Giri had real chances to defeat GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. After sacrificing a pawn with 18.a5!, the Russian number-one likely should have taken a safer path. Overambitiously, he went for more and was clearly worse in a few moves. 

Although the engine loves Black’s position, it is an advantage extremely tough to prove. When told about the move 28…Re5 after the game, Giri was puzzled, and I won’t pretend to understand something he didn’t. I show a few ideas in the annotations, but one main point is for sure: his …Nd5-f6-g4 maneuver was erroneous (the knight turned out to be misplaced).

After the game, Giri reflected: “I wasn’t sure. … In the end, somehow it just petered.” It sure felt that way. He was better, and he felt it, and suddenly the game evaporated. 

A fascinating game and a missed opportunity. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

GM Andrey Esipenko had a typical slight advantage in the Catalan Opening against GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda. After the game, he mentioned that after 20.Bf2 a5: “I’m not sure that I’m better. I needed to go to this endgame. It’s probably just a draw.” Although he had the bishop pair, Esipenko commented, “I think he did everything well.” The players split the half point. 

So went for the Queen’s Gambit against Gukesh and was surprised to see the Queen’s Gambit Accepted in response. In the interview, he said: “I guess Gukesh has never played the QGA before … but I probably didn’t really get much because he pretty much prepared all the critical lines.”

The evaluation never veered far at all from equal, and the players shook hands after 33 moves. A stable result for two players who each won a game in the early rounds and are near the top of the leaderboard.

All Games – Round 3

Standings – Round 3

The WR Chess Masters 2023 takes place February 15-26, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency Dusseldorf in Germany. The format is a round-robin with 10 players. The time control is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus a 30-second increment per move starting with move 61. The prize fund is 130,000 Euros.

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